The Song-Along began in 1993 as a personal project of Toronto singer-songwiter Karen Leslie Hall. Her idea was to organize an event that would bring the songwriting community together in a spirit of fun, creativity and sharing.
With no budget available for advertising, Karen began in May of 1993 by contacting as many songwriters as she could by networking and attending "open stages" around town. The idea was well received and caught on quickly, and by July there were more than 50 songwriters on the bill for the four Summer Song-Along shows at the Free Times Café.
The theme that year were:
The participants included better-know performers such as Ron Sexsmith, Gayle Ackroyd, Marie-Lynn Hammond, Paul Quarrington, and The Shadow Puppets, on the same stage as first-time songwriters and performers, and others at every level of experience in between.
- A Hat
- Seen through an open door
The thematic aspect of the event gave it real focus: most performers had stories to tell about how or why they had settled on one (or more) of the themes, and the audience listened intently to see how each writer had handled the assignment. The musical styles ranged from blues to country. A wonderful time was had by all, and by the third show it was standing room only.
The following March, Song-Along 1994 was an even greater success. Four events were held at the Free Times Café in Toronto, and a spin-off event took place at Rasputin's in Ottawa.Over 80 songwriters wrote songs inspired by the following themes:
Again, the performers ranged from first-timers to professionals, including participants from other cities, such as Kingston, Guelph and Peterborough, who came to Toronto to perform. And again, it was standing room only. There were many memorable moments, including contributions from Bob Snider, Kurt Swinghammer, Katherine Wheatley, and several others.
- Any color except blue
- Canadian content
- Something overheard
The Song-Along became a national event in 1995, thanks to volunteer coordinators who agreed to take on the project in twelve communities:
- Elmvale, Ontario
- Georgetown, Ontario
- Hamilton, Ontario
- London, Ontario
- Ottawa, Ontario (2 shows)
- Peterborough, Ontario
- Regina, Saskatchewan
- St. Catharines, Ontario
- Stratford, Ontario
- Toronto, Ontario (8 shows)
- Vancouver, British Columbia
- Winnipeg, Manitoba
A total of about 200 songwriters chose from the following four themes:
Under the weather was by far the most popular theme, inspiring at least 100 new songs!
- An item of clothing
- Under the weather
- What do you call yours?
Many performers have since added their Song-Along songs to their repetoires, and several have been recorded on albums, including:
- The Shadow Puppets: "Manhattan" (1993; A Hat), from their self-titled debut album
- Karen Leslie Hall: "Sing Me to Sleep" (1993; A Hat, Time), from her album "On the Dream Road"
- John Jackson: "Angel Watching Over You" (1993; Time, Machines), from his album "Takin' My Own Sweet Time"
- Bryan Way: "That Old Hat" (1993; A Hat), from his album "Boy from the Country"
- Don Ross: "Any Color But Blue" (1994; Any color except blue), from his album "This Dragon Won't Sleep" on Sony Records.
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